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China Satellite Seeking Missing Jet Finds Objects at Sea

By Chong Pooi Koon and Ranjeetha Pakiam
March 12, 2014 8:07 PM EDT 49 Comments
Indonesian Air Force personnel listen to a briefing following a search mission for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that was conducted over the Strait of Malacca, at Suwondo air base in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, on March 12, 2014.
Photographer: Binsar Bakkara/AP Photo
Indonesian Air Force personnel listen to a briefing following a search mission for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that was conducted over the Strait of Malacca, at Suwondo air base in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, on March 12, 2014.

A Chinese satellite hunting for Malaysian Airline System Bhd. (MAS)’s missing wide-body jetliner found three floating objects at sea along the plane’s intended route, the government said.

Images from the Gaofen-1 showed the pieces were as large as 24 meters (79 feet) by 22 meters, the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense said on its website. The pictures were snapped on March 9, the day after Flight 370 vanished while flying to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. The airline is verifying with the search and rescue team on the findings, said Lincoln Lee, a spokesman.

China’s report, which placed the location near the confluence of the South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand, follows other leads that haven’t panned out so far in searches entering a sixth day today. A dozen nations have been scouring the ocean and land with 42 ships and 39 aircraft for the Boeing Co. (BA) 777-200 carrying 239 passengers and crew.

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China will keep working to “optimize the image areas, analyze data and continue to search for the missing Malaysian Airline flight according to the developments,” the administration said on its website.

The smaller “suspected floating objects” measured 13 by 18 meters and 14 by 19 meters, according to the website. The satellite found the items in a radius of 20 kilometers (12 miles) around a point of 105.63 degrees east longitude,6.7 degrees north latitude, according to the site.

Biggest Twin

The -200 version of the 777, Boeing’s biggest twin-engine model, is 64 meters long and has a 61-meter wingspan, according to the planemaker’s website.

Air patrols are resuming at daybreak today after a multinational flotilla kept searching overnight, and China’s satellite photos put the waters north and east of Malaysia back as a central focus of the hunt for the missing 777.

The relatively shallow waters of the Gulf of Thailand should make it easier to locate the large pieces, which are probably no longer floating on the surface, said John Purvis, who headed Boeing’s investigations unit for much of the 1980s and 1990s and is now retired.

Flight 370’s route took it over the Gulf of Thailand, where the plane was approaching Vietnamese airspace when controllers lost contact. Signals from the jet’s transponder, a beacon that helps increase the plane’s visibility on radar screens, also ended then.

Vietnam’s Search

A Vietnamese search crew came up empty yesterday after searching the Vung Tau area in the southeast in response to a tip from an oil-rig worker who reported what looked to be a plane on fire. That was the area where a plane reported metal debris earlier this week, according to Vietnam’s Civil Aviation Authority.

The absence of wreckage has kept alive various theories about the plane’s disappearance, from an accident to hijacking to sabotage. A dozen nations have been participating in the search, deploying 42 ships and 39 aircraft in waters on both sides of Peninsular Malaysia.

“This is unprecedented, what we are going through,” Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters yesterday in Kuala Lumpur. “Coordinating so many countries together is not something that is easy.”

While the Gulf of Thailand initially took primacy in the hunt because of Flight 370’s last known position, Malaysia expanded the search this week to the Malacca Strait. Yesterday, Malaysia sought help from U.S. investigators in interpreting an unexplained radar blip detected over the strait, far from the jet’s route.

China’s Prodding

China, whose 153 citizens were the most of any nationality on the plane, prodded Malaysia to conduct an immediate investigation into whether Flight 370 changed course, Qin Gang, a foreign ministry spokesman, said yesterday in a statement.

Tensions also were strained with Vietnam, which complained that it wasn’t notified about Malaysia’s decision not to conduct an air search yesterday. The government in Hanoi is still “waiting for a response from Malaysian authorities” on a Flight 370 turnaround toward the Malacca Strait, Deputy Transport Minister Pham Quy Tieu told reporters in the capital.

Vietnam and China both said earlier this week that they were deploying satellites to assist in the search.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: K. Oanh Ha in Hanoi at +84-4-3938-8940 or oha3@bloomberg.net; Chong Pooi Koon in Kuala Lumpur at +60-3-2302-7854 or pchong17@bloomberg.net; Ranjeetha Pakiam in Kuala Lumpur at +60-3-2302-7856 or rpakiam@bloomberg.net

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Chong Pooi Koon in Kuala Lumpur at pchong17@bloomberg.net; Ranjeetha Pakiam in Kuala Lumpur at rpakiam@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anand Krishnamoorthy at anandk@bloomberg.net

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